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Sportsman

My Sportsman: Rutgers women

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 3. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer. For more essays, click here.

In the world that existed before the 2007 women's national-championship game, the Rutgers' basketball team was barely known outside the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. Don Imus was just another loudmouth shock jock with the freedom to offend at will. Then came his now-infamous words that linked both parties forever after Rutgers' loss to Tennessee in the title game: "That's some nappy-headed hos there."

What was lost in the subsequent media frenzy was everything the team had accomplished just to get to the national-championship game. The Scarlet Knights came back after losing four of their first six games to beat UConn for the program's first Big East Championship. They beat powerhouses Michigan State, Duke and LSU during the NCAA tournament to earn the school's first appearance in the finals. They did it all in the relative anonymity of a sport that rarely breaks into the headlines. But Imus forced the team into the middle of a media circus. "Our moment here was taken away," sophomore Heather Zurich said.

Most people expected the players to fire back at the radio personality. And who could blame them? Given access to a national audience, they could have buried Imus for good. Instead, they sought higher ground. Coach Vivian Stringer issued a perfect statement condemning the comments and focusing on the positives her team brought to the school and the people who looked up to her players.

Throughout all the coverage, from CNN to Oprah, the Rutgers players never called for Imus' firing. Instead, they met with the radio host in an attempt to understand the man behind the microphone. They graciously accepted his apology, and in the process, we learned a lot about the members of the Rutgers women's basketball team. To be put unwillingly in the spotlight at any age is difficult, but to be put there as young college students -- the team had five freshman and no seniors -- I'm not quite sure how many people would be able to keep their cool in such a honorable manner.

For their class, for their dignity and for their runner-up finish against all expectations, the Rutgers women's basketball team is my Sportsman of the Year.

Agree with this selection? Give us your pick for Sportsman here.

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